We have all heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” A nice concise way to remind us all that there is always more than meets the eye, events happening hidden from our view, emotions connected to people and things… A snap shot is never as simple as it seems. And in my case, one picture I stumbled upon is probably worth a myriad upon myriad of words. There are no people in this photograph, and it covers but a brief glimpse of a stagnant still caught through the lens of a camera once upon a time. However, it is so crowded and packed that it is ready to burst open and flood my brain with an overwhelming amount of memories. As you read this post, keep in mind one very important thing: it was written out-of-order, and not even really in a straight line of thought, for my mind weaves things in and out. What is first is really last.
THE BACKGROUND BEHIND THE PHOTO
When I moved into my first apartment in March 2006, at the not-so-tender age of 29, I upset more than one apple cart. I had been living with my mother since I graduated high school in 1995, because there were situations going on in the house that made me extremely uncomfortable allowing my younger sisters to flounder there alone. I moved in because I felt that I needed to keep an eye on things, and after I moved in, I found out just how correct my assumption was. My stepfather passed away in 2003, just days after my paternal grandmother, and as he is not here to defend himself, I will not go into a pointless character assassination. It is sufficient to say that there was abuse and alcoholism in the household, and I saw my sisters’ basic needs beginning to be neglected. There were eight children altogether: my brother, older sister, and I from my mother’s first marriage, my two older and one younger step sisters from my stepfather’s first marriage, and our two younger half sisters from my mother and stepfather’s marriage.
While all the older ones of us siblings who had the ability and the means to help my mom by providing some financial assistance, they turned away from it and went on with their lives. In their defense, some of them were far enough away that they did not know what was happening, but I was guilted into helping by everyone around me. This isn’t to say that my moving in and taking up financial burden was forced, because I could not ignore what was happening. It wasn’t my younger sisters’ fault that their needs weren’t being met. My mother couldn’t make up for it on her own, and because they are family, because I had the means, and because I was more concerned about their well-being, I put my entire life on hold. I was not able to walk away and go on living my life with happiness and peace knowing they were struggling so severely to get by.
Over the span of eleven years, I increasingly took up more and more of the financial burden, eventually to the point where I was paying more than my share of the rent, for the internet, phone, electric, school supplies and clothes, food, doctor visits, medication, and even to repair and insure my mother’s car. (If anyone is curious, this is also the reason why I have no interest in having children of my own. I already helped raise my sisters, and I am done. Yes I love children, but I prefer the lend-lease program where I borrow your children and return them to you, usually spoiled and noisy toys in tow.) My mom always promised to pay me back, but she never did. I raised no contest to this, because she simply couldn’t do. I never expected one penny to come back, and I didn’t do it to have something to hold over her head. I did it because I wanted them to not have to struggle.
When my stepfather passed away, despite them being separated for two years, they had never divorced, and my mom received a windfall as his main beneficiary. While there were things she needed, like the house (and the new roof), a newer vehicle, etc., she wasted the majority of it. I cannot tell you where it went, but it seemed to run out overnight. At this point, my hearing decreased enough that I needed a hearing aid. However, as my insurance did not cover it, and I had no savings due to the financial burden I had taken on, she offered to buy me one. I was appreciative, to say the least, because not being able to hear kind of stinks, especially in your twenties.
By 2005, both my maternal grandparents had passed. My grandmother was left unattended by a nurse who left her sitting in a chair with a blanket tucked under her feet so she could go to the desk to tell another nurse on duty that they monitor they put on her (because they could not get her to stay in bed and she was frequently getting hurt) was broken. While the nurse was out of the room, my grandmother got up and fell (because of the way they found her when coming back into the room the blanket was blamed) because the blanket got wrapped around her feet and tripped her, toppling my grandmother over onto the floor backwards. The back of her head hit the floor, and within the next day and a half, she went into a coma due to severe swelling of her brain, and she died. It happened before my mother and grandfather even made it out of the parking lot of the hospital to go home. And my grandfather followed not six months later, because he gave up. Because he felt that he would have been able to help her. He lived the next several months drenched, suffocated, and buried in guilt. You can’t die directly of a broken heart, but when you’re so distraught over losing your partner with whom you’ve shared a life for over five decades, a partner who stood by you when you fought and overcame alcoholism, a partner who supported you while you were hospitalized with severe depression for six months because of the way your only son passed way too young, it’s the starvation, refusal to sleep, and ignoring the infections from diabetic ulcers and bedsores (because he refused to get out of bed) that WILL kill you. The doctors can tell me all the physical causes of my grandfather’s death until they are blue in the face, but I am smart enough to know that he just couldn’t live without my grandmother. People with degrees can be foolish.
(This tangent was not really a tangent and actually serves a purpose!) After my grandparents both passed, my mother sold the house she owned free and clear to take up a mortgage to buy my grandparents’ house that was then in disrepair, because they could not afford the upkeep. Once again, the money was gone, and my mom came back to me for more and more financial help. I couldn’t take it anymore. Everyone in the household, sisters included, were now old enough to be able to support themselves, even if they had to pool the funds from jobs to do it. I was approaching thirty, never lived away from my family, and I was tired of taking care of people who felt that they deserved my sacrificing my entire life for them without showing any appreciation in return. A friend I worked with at the time had introduced me to her assistant manager. She was looking to get out her lease but did not want to move out if she couldn’t find someone to take it over. As things worked out, I was looking to get INTO a lease. We went over to her apartment, and she showed me around. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. She had her landlord contact me, and the arrangement were made. I had only barely saved enough money to cover the first and last months’ rent. Still I moved in. I was out. I was free and on my own.
THIS PICTURE IS FAR MORE THAN IT APPEARS TO BE
THIS IS WHAT IT COULD BE……
So now you are looking at the image above trying to decipher the plethora of arrows. What I am showing by this picture is what most people would probably see first if they had been in my situation. But I thought of these things only after I had to look past something else that blinding me from it. This despite the fact that the last ten months in this apartment were extremely traumatic, filled with horrible stories bursting out from every last inch of its rooms. I am going to tell you the last thing first, and then once you get to the end, you will understand why.
This picture was taken by Kevin at some point after he moved in and took over like a dictator. One day while I was at work, he took this, emailed it to his sister, and spent the next several hours with her on the phone talking about much of a hoarder I was…. not to mention how bad I was at keeping house. The view you see here is taken from about the middle of the kitchen floor, and it overlooks the counter-space with the sink area into the tiny living room on the other side of the wall. You can see just the beginning of the counter to the left where the microwave and stove are just out of view. To the right, would be the evil cabinet where I had so deviously “hidden” the bottle of Godiva that Kerwyn brought up with him on a visit… and also the fridge. On the other side of the fridge as you go toward the living room were two cherry finish bookcases that were about six feet tall. Or so.
I am not necessarily the neatest person in the world, but I detest unnecessary clutter and filth. Despite the arrows all over the image, this must have been a good day for Kevin, because it was usually far worse than this when I came home work in the evening. The arrows indicate things Kevin regularly left lying around. The dirty knife and glasses on the counter, right next to the sink. A random jug of who knows what. Wadded up paper towels, piles of mail and I have no clue what else. His using my vases behind the sink as a storage rack for his dirty, filthy, stinking (really) hats. His sunglasses. Broken chopsticks. Empty medicine bottles. Just junk and clutter, not tolerable in the kitchen at all. This is a room where you prepare food to take into your body and clean dishes and utensils that come into contact with said food, but I have to work around who knows what kind of germs, funk, and parasites crawling off his stuff.
They also indicate things that he used at one point to throw across the room at me when he was actually too lazy to get up and hit me. Other things, like the knife, the paperweight, etc., he actually held to my throat and threatened to cut me or attempted to hit me on the back of the head. I also detested the clutter because it made it far too easy for him to injure me, because he was so quick to grab random things, and then look at it to determine how to best use it on me. He didn’t need a constant supply of weapons at his fingertips. He was so efficient with his fists. There were also memories of things that eventually came to mind as I studied this picture, but I prefer to not talk about them.
BUT THIS IS WHAT IT REALLY IS…..
Now the secret is out. I didn’t see all the bad I had experienced so much more recently than the good that preceded it. The first thing I saw when I looked at the photograph was the blinds that Kerwyn hung for me in the window behind the TV. We met in person the weekend I moved into the apartment, because he offered to come up from the City to help me move in. After all these years, that still means so much more to me than I can ever explain. Kerwyn would write it off as no big deal, but it was to me.
And to think, after surviving my family being underfoot, the poor guy gets to see me sick the first time he sees me. (What an impression to make!) The upside to this is that as I lay whining in my bed like a child, Kerwyn went into the living room and hung the blind up for me. I smile every time… without fail… when I think about this. And you have to know how happy I was to come across this picture. The first thing I saw was him at the window in his white shirt and khakis, hanging a blind in the window. After all these years, I remember the smile that came across my face as I watched him, and I remember feeling at peace when he was there. Never once was I uncomfortable around him.
Then I thought about him making breakfast for me. He was the first one to use my new kitchen! A girl can get no better treat than this, not in my world. Well, there was also the diner a few houses down from the apartment. In warm weather with the windows open, the apartment smelled like food. We went there several times, but one day as we were going up the steps to go in, and older gentleman was on his way out. He looked at us as he started descending the short flight of steps, saw Kerwyn going up before me, and looked down quickly (I watch everything!) and saw that Kerwyn had his arm back, holding my hand as we climbed the steps, and the gentleman complimented us on being a nice couple. I smiled like a geek then, and I still do to this day. Other things he does that make me smile like a child: opens doors for others, always says please and thank you, the way he answers the phone, little quirky phrases he uses, the way his voice sounds when he gets excited about something, the dorky way I smiled when he’d kiss me on the cheek.
Another little story from this apartment… I mean since you can see the TV where I sat watching Memoirs of a Geisha after this played out… Once upon a time, a girl wanted a pizza. Not just any pizza, but a chicken wing pizza from the only pizza place she would call, because pizza and wings are their strength. It was a combination of being cheap and tight on cash, and she may have said something about pizza but then saying she was not ordering it. (She can be kind of stubborn. She should really work on that!) Some time goes by and the doorbell rings. So down the stairs of death she goes. Stairs of death you ask? Just about everyone fell at least once on them. You know, it really hurts! And I am not sure they were really up to code….
So I open the door, and this tall, young man is standing there holding a pizza, and I must have made a really odd face, because he suddenly looked really confused. Okay, it may have been the fact that I told him he had the wrong house, I didn’t call, etc., etc…. So the guy says, really forcefully (because apparently when I’m rather insistent I can be maddening) while holding the slip up for me to see, “But your address is on the slip!” Details, details, I’m not interested in minutia! He and I both tire of this argument and part ways. I get upstairs, and Kerwyn calls. It seems someone in New York City called a pizzeria in Central New York and ordered the pizza for me and had it delivered to my apartment without telling me that it was coming. I mean the nerve of some men! Doing thoughtful things like that unexpectedly! Kerwyn was chuckling when he got off the phone, and I’m not so sure it was because he thought I was nuts, goofy, or ridiculous. The guy was quite relieved the second time when he came back and I didn’t turn him away. I mean, who wants a free pizza pie, right? (Thank you, Kerwyn!)
Another reason I was so happy to find this random picture was because we met in person this month eight years ago. March became my favorite month ever because of this. Really, how can a girl complain about meeting a guy like Kerwyn? After everything he has done for me, March SHOULD be my most favorite month….. 🙂
So why am I writing a post about this? I did this at first to prove a point to myself about how blind I am to my own progress. Seeing its relevance to many of you, I decided to post about it here as a reminder that even the smallest things like this picture can be indicators of dramatic progress. As a reminder to you that even when you feel stuck, like you aren’t moving forward, or even some days struggling and getting pulled backwards, you are still healing. You are still becoming a new you. You are still learning who you are.
I am thankful I found this after the past few months I have had. Emotionally, I was a wreck and I struggled with a lot of things. I felt like I had lost myself again. I felt like I was failing, like I was moving backwards, and I realized how tired fighting against triggers can make you when you get pummeled one after the other. When it never lets up. I began to believe the garbage and I stopped telling myself that I needed to remember where I was. I stopped concentrating on the progress I have made. But all I needed was just one photograph. A photograph that was taken and used as a weapon against me. As a way to try to embarrass me in front of the few people I was still allowed contact with at the time it was taken. And taking into consideration that the first thing I thought about when I saw this picture was not all the garbage of Kevin’s junking up my counters, making of which he would use as projectiles to throw at me, or some of them to use as weapons to hit me… the fact that what I thought of first were random memories of Kerwyn being there with me shows that I have made a ridiculous amount of progress in terms of healing and sloughing off the damage I had when I first left Kevin.
It reminded me that I need to have patience, compassion, and respect for myself, because I have come such a long way. Even if I still have a long way to go in so many ways, I can still be proud of who I am now at this point in my life. Given the torture I endured at Kevin’s hand, for me to, without deliberately making myself do so, focus on the good memories of that place, for me to have to think about the bad with considerable effort, for me to not see the bad first when so many would, tells me that my head is finally in the right place. My heart, while still bruised, is now whole, and my sight is set on living. Not wallowing in the filth that litters my not-so-distant past.
All I needed to remember was that one photograph.